Tuesday, 30 July 2013

6pm on 2nd September - The London Cycling Campaign "space for cycling" ride in support of the Parliamentary debate on cycling on the same day. You really need to be there.

The 'tunnel of death'. Believe it or not, this is Boris's Cycle Way into the City of London. The bike way is underneath the lorry on the left. That lorry, incidentally, is turning right.
This morning I cycled to work, as I do most days, through the 'tunnel of death'. It's a narrow passage way created between two lanes of lorries and buses pictured above. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the main entrance to the City of London as you cycle over Southwark Bridge on one of Boris's expensively-constructed Cycle Super Highways. Bikes go straight ahead. Lorries in the left and right lanes are both turning right.

You can't hang back behind the traffic here and wait until it's safer to cycle through: A bike track spits you out into the queue of traffic, most of which is occupying the blue paint under that lorry. That blue paint is supposedly a bike lane. The thing is poorly thought-through. And it's lethal. It would also be incredibly simple to redesign this junction to work more safely but that's not going to happen for several years, if at all.

Another way for me to get to work is along Ludgate Hill, also in the City of London. Most days, that would involve cycling through the police chicane. Here's an image of the police chicane in action: The road narrows into a sort of zigzag where buses and lorries swoosh past you. If you're super fit and young, you race to try and get in front of the lorries. If not, you give up or you just get squashed by the road design, lucky you.

City of London police chicane where people on bikes are meant to 'merge' with lorries and buses 
As it happens, the City is proposing to build a brand new chicane exactly like the one pictured above as part of a multimillion redesign of the streets around Aldgate. As Rachel Aldred points out in an extremely balanced post, much of the scheme is an improvement, but the bulk of the scheme "builds in unacceptable risks for any cyclist unfortunate enough to have to use it". Her useful question, one that I bang my head against the wall on again and again is this: "How come these designs keep coming back, like Freddy in the Nightmare on Elm Street series?"

I think Rachel is absolutely right to talk about the fact that roads are being designed with 'unacceptable risk' for people using bikes as transport.

The fact is that the majority of cycle trips will be happening for years to come on roads that are not being made cycle-friendly. What's worse, many roads are actually being made worse for cycling. The Crown Estate is going ahead with its plans to narrow Haymarket and Lower Regent Street in central London which will make it even more intimidating to cycle north-south through the West End. It's true that the Crown Estate is supporting investment in an alternative route for cycling through Soho and is saying nice things about how bicycle transport is important for businesses in towns and cities but that alternative route is just a theory at the moment with no funding and no timetable.

The fact is that London's "Cycling Revolution" is still very much in its infancy and in a very fragile state. Early this year, the Mayor announced a series of initiatives. The key initiatives are:

  • Mini-Hollands in outer London - investment in a handful of areas to make cycling a strategic transport choice
  • A central London bike grid
  • A segregated cycle highway from west to east London 
  • A network of Quiet Ways for cycling in other parts of London

This is also a London cycle 'super' highway. It's underneath the coaches which park there at rush hour. Lovely to be squeezed between the coaches and the oil tankers here every day. 
Some of these things are beginning to creak into action. For example, earlier this week Hounslow published its pitch to receive funding for a mini-Holland network of better cycling and walking networks and it's pretty impressive stuff. The new, properly segregated Cycle Super Highway is already under construction between Bow and Stratford. And there a number of other initiatives under way to get the central London bike grid starting to happen.

But what's important to note is that (with the exception of the Bow cycle way) these schemes are still only concepts at the moment. None of them is guaranteed. It's not clear, for example, whether London will ever get that safe and sensible bike route through the centre of the West End (which is, frankly, embarrassing). And for those of you outside London, virtually nothing is happening. In the town I'm from, for example, the council had produced detailed plans to build a couple of miles of very low standard bike lanes (on shared use pavements) but these have recently been scrapped in a cost cutting measure.

Over the past few weeks, thousands of people have participated in protest rides at the scenes of recent cyclist deaths at Aldgate and Holborn - areas where people on bikes are dumped in to the middle of multi-lane junctions with no safe space for cycling - to insist that things really do have to change. As far as I'm aware, no-one is thinking about whether the complete dogs breakfast at Holborn needs to be redesigned. If it's not already on the list of possible Mayoral initiatives, nothing is going to change at Holborn for at least five years, possibly 10 more years. That pace of change just doesn't feel good enough for me and I think we need to show that we are impatient for change, we don't want to have to wait 10 more years for another hundred or so people to be needlessly killed because they have no choice other than to cycle through ridiculously designed road junctions. In short, we want to see meaningful change in London and elsewhere, that will allow people to chose the bicycle as a sensible form of transport.

AsEasyAsRidingABike blog put it excellently last week: "People want to ride bikes; to make short trips around towns and cities. They are being frustrated".

These are people who want to cycle. Normal everyday people doing normal everyday things. But they are being prevented from doing so by lack of initiative from government and local authorities to create conditions where this sort of thing is the norm. It looks normal, people want it to be normal, we need pressure to make politicians make this sort of thing standard, at any time, in any town. Pic courtesy AsEasyAsRidingABike

It's time to show that we're frustrated and want things to change.

On Monday 2nd September, MPs will be debating safer cycling in Parliament. The London Cycling Campaign has called for people to join a ride in support of the debate that evening to coincide with the debate. They're calling, sensibly, for 'safe space for cycling'. This is absolutely the right thing to do. If you can, please join. We need thousands of people to join the ride. We also need people to petition their MPs to attend the debate. There's a simple form to help you write to your MP on The Times's website. It takes two minutes to do.

The London Cycling Campaign Ride gathers at 6pm in Jubilee Gardens behind the Millenium Wheel (near Waterloo) for a 6.30pm departure. There will be feeder rides from all over London and the route will be well marshalled from start to finish. Please put it in your diaries and make sure to join the ride. It's critically important we show our MPs and our Mayor that this is something we're not going to let go away.

Route of the London Cycling Campaign Space For Cycling ride on 2nd September at 6pm. You should be there.